Courage

A 3,000-word short story split into three parts, "Courage" is true to its title in telling the story of a young man confronted by his deepest fears and anxieties, a narrative that takes place on the unforgiving terrain of a ski hill.

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1. Courage--Part 1

Evan stared straight ahead, watching the whitened pines pass him by on his way up to the summit. It was a cold day for skiing, but that didn’t hinder the conversation of the three neon-clothed teenaged girls beside him, their jackets, snowboards, and toques an assault of lime green, hot pink, and electric blue. Evan, next to them, was all but invisible in his ebony ski uniform, his means for blending in with the frozen iron structure of the chairlift. Their ski goggles were perched on their toques, but Evan’s remained firmly in place under the rim of his helmet.

After a couple minutes, as the conversation of the three teenaged rainbows dropped to a whisper, Evan caught them stealing glances at him. One of them made a remark that caused the others to giggle, and Evan’s heart began to thump. His fingers, though perfectly warm, trembled.

“You know, most guys try to talk to a group of girls when they see one,” said one of the girls, looking straight at Evan, who remained a corpse in their presence. In every stage of his life, teenage girls had always been the hardest to avoid.

“He doesn’t want to talk,” murmured a quieter female voice, after Evan failed to reply.

“Doesn’t mean he has to be a dick about it,” answered the first girl, “just because he thinks he’s better than us.”

“Hey,” hissed the third girl, “are those his pecs bulging through his jacket?”

The girls turned their heads towards each other, their whispers inaudible, and Evan sat back to catch his breath—he had an uncomfortable habit of holding it when he was being pressured into talking.

The girls continued to chat amongst themselves until they neared the end, where the trees were fewer in number and frozen in place by ice. Evan craned his neck and beheld the flurries descending from the grey curtain above.

His sudden motion must have attracted the attention of the first girl. “Why are you wearing a helmet, anyway?” she prodded. “No one gives a shit about helmets on this hill.”

Evan gritted his teeth, a new wave of blazing, nervous heat coursing through his body. Couldn’t she just leave him alone already?

“Hello?!” the girl demanded, waving an invasive hand in front of him.

“I’m guh—” stammered Evan, his heart more willing to rise into his mouth than his words. His shoulders clenched, just like they did every time he spoke. “I’m go—going down the ba—backside of the mountain.”

There; he said it. His ribs had a vice-grip on his chest, and his throat felt swollen from the effort of talking to such ruthless strangers. Before he could catch his breath, it was time to pull the bar up, and his skis made contact with the snow.

“Enjoy!” called one of the neon snowboarders behind him, but Evan blasted off with his ski poles without any consideration of looking back.

On the way to his favourite double-black-diamond run, Evan’s body settled into the familiar motions of skiing. The gliding sensation over the packed, bleached carpet beneath him and the back-and forth swaying of his hips brought peace to him like nothing else in the world, and by time he was perched at the edge of the run, he felt more at ease than he ever would on a chairlift. Beginning on the top of a small cliff, Courage was the steepest run on the entire hill.

Evan’s lips parted in his first smile that day, and he pushed off the edge, flew down the glorious eight-foot drop, and relaxed his knees an instant before making impact with the crunchy snow. Gravity and lack of friction took over from there, beckoning him down the treacherous slope with electrifying speed.

After a couple minutes of tearing up the terrain, Evan needed a break to catch his breath, and stopped to survey the mountain. Few skiers were bold enough to attempt Courage, so Evan often had the entire run to himself the whole day. No other place outside the apartment brought him joy like this one did.

It was then that a voice caught Evan’s ear: the voice of a woman. “You, there!” came the strained cry. “Please, don’t leave!”

Evan scanned the area curiously, peering in between trees. At last, he saw a spot of purple reaching out to him a dozen yards down the hill, at the base of a cliff belonging to the adjacent run. She cried out again: “Please, don’t leave!”

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